Anti-riot police were deployed to Irene Farm in Figtree, Wednesday, to quell flaring tempers as villagers threatened to burn a vehicle belonging to the Deputy Sheriff’s office after they were ordered to vacate the property.
The farm has been at the centre of a wrangle between the Anglican Diocese Church of Matabeleland and the villagers who argue that they were allowed to remain on the farm by the Government following its acquisition by the state.
Protesting against the move, the placard waving villagers who were also armed with axes and knobkerries vowed to stay put.
They argued they had a legal right to be on that farm, as they were resettled there by the government after the land was gazetted in 2014.
As the situation threatened to turn violent, anti-riot police from Figtree were called in to maintain order and assist officials from the Deputy Sheriff’s Office to remove the villagers’ property.
In an interview with CITE, one of the villagers, Nkosilamandla Mkhwananzi, said the Anglican Church had no right to evict them as the land belonged to the government.
“We moved here following the land reform programme after we saw that this was no man’s land. This farm was bought by Cecil John Rhodes in 1905 with 11 shillings and when Rhodes was rich, he donated it to Cyrene High School in 1930. Cyrene School had its own farm called Collaton. There are three farms here, Collaton, Irene and half of Klipspring,” he said.
“This farm is now government property. Bishop (Cleophas) Lunga is decampaigning the president and why is he fixing people now when it’s towards elections. Why evict people before they harvest? If there was a problem why didn’t the Bishop come down here so that we could discuss? The Bishop is not a man of God but a man of Satan.”
In November last year, nine villagers who were served with eviction notices approached the High Court seeking to challenge their eviction.
This came after the same court under case number HC2444/03 directed them to vacate the farm following an application by the Anglican Church.
During the land reform programme, the villagers occupied the farm forcing the Anglican Church to approach the High Court seeking an eviction order which was granted in 2003.
But on November 14, a government gazette was published gazetting Irene farm General notice 467 of 2014.
One of the villagers who refused to be quoted said after the Anglican Church obtained an eviction order at the High Court it did not enforce it.
“They attempted in 2008 and again 2013 but the farm was subsequently gazetted in 2014 which means the farm no longer belongs to Cyrene School. But because Cyrene had an order in 2005 which is still valid, it wants to use that order,” he said.
“An application has been made at the court filed by Advocate Kucaca Vumile Phulu to stop the eviction but Cyrene has also filed heads of arguments, arguing the farm in question still belongs to them. It’s common cause that once a farm has been gazetted, there’s no reversal. This is an exercise in futility but they are attempting and continuously will attempt but because they had a valid order they will try to continue.”
Emncwazini Ward 25 Councillor Sibonginkosi Dube, said she was perplexed as to why the church continued to evict the villagers.
“This place was gazetted and these villagers placed legally but what is surprising is they are continuously being evicted. These people receive assistance from the government, they are registered voters in Zimbabwe and partake in all processes of the country so what is the challenge now? They pay rates, if the land is gazetted it belongs to the state. I don’t know what the problem is with Cyrene or what must be done because these people are here legally,” she said.
However, one of the villagers said the latest evictions were motivated by alleged corrupt activities by some war veterans who resettled people next to Cyrene High School in exchange for cash.
Zanu PF’s Matobo District Coordinating Committee chairperson, Mfakazi Maphosa, said it was disappointing to see such evictions when the country was due to celebrate independence.
“We have an interest in this matter because it’s just before independence, then we see such occurring. This puts the name of the president in disrepute and us as a country. We feel let down because we fought for the country and we cannot be told what to do by foreigners. Whose interests is the Deputy Sheriff’s Office serving when people fought for this land? Do they want to embarrass us before independence?” he asked.